Dalai Lama addresses 40,000 in N.Y.
By Richard Pyle
The Associated Press
August 15, 1999 3:52 p.m. CDT

NEW YORK (AP) -- But for smatterings of applause at such suggestions that war is obsolete and some New Yorkers are greedy, more than 40,000 people listened in rapt silence on Sunday as the Dalai Lama brought his message of peace and tolerance to Central Park.

Seldom has a more solemn audience gathered in the leafy venue where rock concerts and other commercial events draw huge, often raucous crowds. Many came out of curiosity, but relatively few began drifting away before the two-hour program ended.

Seated on a stage flanked with greenery and yellow flowers, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader delivered a spiritual lecture on compassion, tolerance and non-violence.

He first reviewed briefly his own history: born as the 14th heir to Tibet's 600-year-old religious dynasty, but driven into exile at age 24 by a bloody Chinese takeover of the Himalayan nation in 1959. He has lived for most of the past 40 years in India, the head of a Tibetan government in exile and hoping to return someday to his homeland.

"My life, when I look back, has not been easy," the 64-year-old Dalai Lama said. "But one thing I learned -- the compassion, the sense of caring about others' welfare, brings to me inner strength. It has defined the purpose of my life."

He said that every person has "the same potential for inner tranquility," but "negative forces," such as "fear, suspicion, selfishness and self-hatred, can destroy inner peace."

Some spectators conceded the message wasn't very original, but an enunciation of principles that the human race might do well to embrace.

"It codifies what I've always believed," said Adam Rosen, 28, an art and sculpture student. "It shows that people are spiritually starved. I hope some will hear this message."

The "teaching," as his aides described it, was the Dalai Lama's second appearance in Central Park. In 1991, two years after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, the Dalai Lama held a "meditation" attended by 5,000 people.

Nicholas Vreeland, director of New York's Tibet Center, said Sunday's crowd was "about what we expected." The Dalai Lama, he said, "is not proselytizing, he is imploring people to become better people."

Repeatedly stressing the idea of a single human race, the Dalai Lama noted that when seen from outer space, "our beautiful blue planet" has no national boundaries, and drew applause upon declaring that "the concept of war is now irrelevant, the concept of violence is out of date."

Spectators clapped again when he chided New York as a place where a gap between rich and poor helped to fan "a lot of trouble, a lot of fear, killings... the huge gap is very unfortunate."

The speech capped an intensive four days in New York for the Dalai Lama, who also lectured at a local theater.

City Parks Commissioner Henry Stern said Sunday's crowd was second in size only to Pope John Paul II's for a non-entertainment event, but could not put a figure on the latter. Some concerts have drawn upwards of 200,000 spectators.

Copyright 2000 The Associated Press